Museum Ideas 2014

This October I was fortunate enough to attend another fantastic Museum Ideas conference, hosted by Museum ID at the Museum of London. This is always one of my favourite events of the conference season as the speaker and delegate list is always international and varied – rarely a case of the usual suspects.

Although the first session before lunch was quite long, it was punchy and kept me engaged.

Digital Lessons

The first speaker was Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He went through a list of digital lessons that he had learnt at the Met and beyond. Highlights:

  • You never know where good ideas might come from – even from the top. Sree told how they had always followed the mantra of no barriers to access and therefore never asked users signing onto their Wi-Fi for emails. One of their Chief Execs suggested they at least ask as an option, and in the first few months they collected 60,000 valid email addresses!
  • Everyone wants to peak behind the scenes
  • Mobile is even more important than you think, and designs should be Useful, Simple and Delightful (great examples below!)

Good Apps

  • There is so much cool stuff happening in museums!
  • You have got to get the word out there, and its not easy! Being great is not enough – you have to tell people you are great!

You can see all the slides from Sree’s talk here.

Participatory Exhibition Design

Next Silvia Filippini-Fantoni, Director of Interpretation, Media and Evaluation at the Indianapolis Museum of Art talked about the process they went through to change their approach to building exhibitions, moving it away from a purely curator-led process, to one managed by a core team in consultation with their audiences.

While I think we all agreed that what she was describing is best practice, it is much better discussed in theory than achieved in practice. It was fascinating to hear the challenges that they faced as well as their successes in this candid talk.

Re:Make the Museum

The final highlight of the morning for me was a talk from Hannah Fox, Project Director, Silk Mill, Derby Museums Trust about establishing a maker culture at the heart of their museum, and literally remaking the museum with their audience. It was truly inspirational the way they worked with the community, and as a keen (rather than talented) maker myself, the project intrigued me!

Museum Ideas

Museum Hack

After lunch things truly kicked off with a bang as Nick Gray told us about Museum Hack – a initiative that he set up offering tours of the Met for people who ‘don’t like museums’. Nick explained that he was never a ‘museumy person’ until he was shown around the Met by a friend who showed him their favourite objects. This was a revelation to Nick – museums can be fun! This also started a love affair with the Met and Nick would go there most Friday and Saturday evenings and give tours to his friends, friends of friends who had recommended the tour, and soon the popularity of the tour was so high it became a spin off business with a dozen tour guides.

Hearing Nick talk, I am not at all surprised that his tours were engaging – he was an enthusiastic and engaging storyteller. It is also clear that Museum Hack takes an irreverent note that appeals, and also offers fast paced tours with fun activities to keep the group on a high.

One thing Nick did emphasise is that he sees what he does with Museum Hack as a separate and additional offer to the museum run tours – which are also necessary. These tours are specifically aimed at an unengaged audience to change their minds about museums being a ‘place for them’ – and for this it helps that the tours are not run by the institutions themselves. But the hope is that those who attend Museum Hack tours will convert and take advantage of the museums core offer to learn more – as Nick himself did!

Participation, Participation, Participation

As the theme of this year’s conference was the Participatory Museum, we were treated to a number of case studies of participatory practice (and lots of references to Nina Simon). Highlights for me were from the National Maritime Museum, who put ‘participation on trial’ and discussed changes they made to the participatory spaces in their museums, moving them from the edge – tucked away in a corner so that children having fun are neither seen no heard – and placing them in the centre of exhibition spaces, and making sure that it was appealing to audiences of all ages.

Another highlight was the talk from Catherine O’Donnell from the People’s History Museum about a participatory exhibition space they established for community use. An interesting lesson – as part of the project, and ensuring its transparency, one thing they did was put Catherine’s desk in the public space, but this was actually not well received with visitors feeling concerned that they would disturb her at her work – rather than approaching her to discuss it, as was the goal.

Final Thought

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the day and Museum Ideas remains a highlight of the conference season. It doesn’t surprise me that the Museum Ideas hashtag was trending for much of the day. Looking forward to next year.

Catch up on what you missed here: http://eventifier.com/event/MuseumIdeas/ 

Jessica Suess

Self-Employed Scribbler, Museum Mogul, Keen Capoeirista, History Hobbyist, Esoteric Enthusiast, Relentless Reader, Thirsty Traveler

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